‘Bringing It All Back Home'
‘Tarantula: On Film’ series wraps up with a rare public screening
Bob Dylan in “Eat the Document”
The “Tarantula: On Film” series, and the greater goal of the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, is to give viewers a better picture of Dylan—not only as an artist, but as he’s situated among American art and culture. Bob Dylan’s poetry in “Tarantula” (1971), and his albums, offers a limited picture of the man. While one sees the poet and musician, his persona hides behind myriad characters and images.
The third and final installment of the film series at the Woody Guthrie Center deals directly with the question of Dylan’s identity. “Eat the Document” (1972), the only feature film directed by Dylan, will be shown in a newly-remastered transfer from the archives. Composed of D.A. Pennebaker’s 1966 concert footage and casually “scripted” scenes, Dylan co-edited the film with Howard Alk into something worlds apart from Pennebaker’s “Dont Look Back” (1967).
“Eat the Document” functions like Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” (1965): though one supposedly sees Dylan’s reality, they still cannot understand its truth. Like his music, Dylan controls this image, meaning that audiences see and hear what he wants them to. The film is a subtly satirical take on Dylan’s role as an artist, performer, and ever-evasive “activist.”
“Don’t you ever come off stage?” a reporter asks. “Are you ever yourself at any time?”
Dylan merely shrugs, and the film cuts to him onstage, mid-performance during “Ballad of a Thin Man.”
“Why are you here?” another reporter asks several scenes later.
“I just go where I’m supposed to go, that’s all,” Dylan responds. “I take orders from someone who calls me on the telephone, I never see ‘em. The phone rings, I pick up the phone. He says, ‘do this, do that,’ and I do it.”
Cut to Dylan on the telephone with Albert Grossman, his manager. Grossman hangs up the phone, and the camera pans to reveal that the two have been sitting in the same room.
How much is staged? How much is an act? “Eat the Document” opens with Dylan hunched over a piano laughing hysterically, and ends with him looking into the camera and asking:
“Why don’t you move around, man, unless you’re comfortable in that chair?”
Dylan is taunting his audience, and though this obscures his identity, the Bob Dylan Center aims to elucidate him.
Two other films that deal with the concept of identity will be shown during part three. Ken Jacobs’ “Blonde Cobra” (1959–63), a half-hour counterculture freakout featuring performance artist Jack Smith, and Bruce Conner’s “Permian Strata” (1969), an irreverent music video which juxtaposes Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” with the film “The Life of Paul: On the Road to Damascus” (1949).
Catch these three films, along with 1966 archival footage of a full Dylan performance, at the Woody Guthrie Center on Aug. 26, 2–4 p.m. Check facebook.com/bobdylancenter for more info and future events.